No response from PH on South China Sea talks – China exec
MANILA, Philippines — A Chinese Embassy official on Monday reiterated anew an earlier claim by the Chinese Foreign Ministry that the Philippines had committed to remove its grounded vessel at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
Zhou Zhiyong, the Chinese Embassy’s deputy chief of mission and minister counselor, also claimed that Beijing had been reaching out to Manila but it had yet to respond to China’s proposed bilateral talks on tensions in the South China Sea (SCS).
These assertions were part of a statement that he read in a public forum, a week after water cannon attacks by the China Coast Guard (CCG) on Philippine boats on a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has yet to issue a statement regarding the Chinese official’s claims.
Code of conduct
According to Zhou, China has repeatedly expressed its willingness to resolve differences with the Philippines through bilateral dialogue.
The DFA, however, said in a press briefing on Aug. 7, two days after the CCG’s water cannonade, that it was the Chinese Foreign Ministry that could not be reached during that incident.
Zhou also said China was willing to accelerate the consultation on a code of conduct on the South China Sea together with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
It has been 10 years since Asean and China first held talks in Suzhou, China, on establishing a code of conduct, although Asean has raised that idea for three decades since the 1990s.
On the Philippines’ “explicit commitment” to remove the BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin, Zhou said “representations were put on record and the details were well documented.”
But Jonathan Malaya, assistant director general of the National Security Council, has disputed that claim, saying there is “no record or any minutes of a meeting, formal report, legal document, or verbal agreement” showing that the Philippines had agreed to remove the BRP Sierra Madre. He also challenged China to produce such a record.
In an interview with ANC, Malaya also said Manila’s alleged promise to Beijing is “part of the disinformation operations of China.”
Former Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado told the Inquirer in an interview on Aug. 9 that “I was not a party to any so-called arrangement to remove the BRP Sierra Madre. In fact, we were the ones who beached it… we did not beach a landing ship tank just to give it up. What we wanted was to make it a semi-permanent base.”
He also said the government, then headed by President Joseph Estrada, had planned to run more ships aground in “strategic places” in the West Philippine Sea.
‘No promise whatsoever’
The former president’s son, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, said in a press briefing on Monday: “During my phone conversation today with former Sen. Orly Mercado, who held the position of defense secretary during my father’s tenure, he confirmed that there was no agreement or promise whatsoever made to the Chinese government.”
President Marcos had also weighed in on this matter, saying last Wednesday that “if there does exist such an agreement, I rescind that agreement now.”
According to Zhou, the Philippines and China held talks in 2021 which led to a consensus on the Philippines’ resupply missions to the BRP Sierra Madre.
However, beginning early this year, the Philippine government “refused to acknowledge and implement the existing consensus and started to take a series of unilateral actions,” he said, adding that China even submitted a “draft proposal” on ensuring “peace and tranquility in the relevant waters.”
“We are still waiting for the formal response from the Philippine side,” Zhou said.